MINNEAPOLIS -- The smallmouth bass hit Todd Kemery's lure with a vengeance.
"It fought like a monster; I was afraid I was going to lose it because it kept going under the boat," said Kemery, a quadriplegic Marine veteran who normally has difficulty holding a rod and reeling in a fish.
But not this day.
Kemery boated the big bass recently with the push of a button from a new motorized reel developed by a Brainerd, Minn., man.
"It's amazing. I was very impressed," said Kemery, sports director for Minnesota Paralyzed Veterans of America.
Which pleases Dr. Roland "Doc" Kehr, the 70-year-old Brainerd dentist who developed and is selling the M-POW-R fishing reel as an aid to disabled anglers. His slogan: "Battery powered reels that empower the disabled."
Kehr (pronounced "care") has a son, Nathan, with cerebral palsy who is unable to use his left arm and hand.
"He can cast with his right arm and reel with his right hand, but he can't do both simultaneously," said Kehr. For years Nathan fished using a motorized reel built by a company that long ago went out of business. It worked, but it couldn't bring in anything much heavier than the lure, Kehr said.
Kehr, who was part-owner of the Lindy-Little Joe Fishing Tackle Co. for 28 years and developed two lures for the company, figured that with the technological developments in batteries and motors, he could improve upon the design.
So 21/2 years ago, Kehr began working on a motorized reel, tapping the knowledge and advice of local friends, anglers and entrepreneurs Al Lindner, Dan Sura, Dave Csanda and Jeff Zernov.
"One of the four motors we tested had enough power and torque for Nathan to pull in 19- and 23-inch walleyes," Kehr said. "That changed my whole perspective of what we were going to do."
Kehr's M-POW-R device is a spinning reel-graphite rod combination that includes 10-amp motor, 4-amp rechargeable battery, charger and speed control. It also can be plugged into a boat's power system. The package sells for $599.99.
He's developing a harness kit that will allow anglers to mount the power reel on any fishing rod, including a fly rod or ice-fishing rod.
Kehr believes he's built the better mousetrap.
"It's light and it's balanced. And it works," he said.
The battery should last four to six hours of retrieving a crankbait or spinnerbait, less if the angler is reeling in lots of fish. The reel will haul in smaller fish with a push of the button; anglers can pump the rod and use the reel to take up the slack for larger fish.
Kehr believes a variety of people will find the device helpful.
"The potential is astounding," he said. "There are 34 million people with hand-arm disabilities," ranging from disabled veterans to those with arthritis or carpal tunnel syndrome.
Kehr plans to sell the devices on his website (www.mpowrfishing.com) and eventually in retail stores.
He demonstrated the rod-reel combination at a recent fishing outing for veterans at Camp Ripley, which is where Kemery, 53, of Lakeville, Minn., tried it.
An active outdoorsman who snowmobiles, fishes and hunts, Kemery broke his neck in an active-duty accident in 1982, which left him with little arm strength.
"I struggle with holding a rod against my chest with one not-very-good hand, and try to reel it with the other not-so-good hand," said. "It can be a comical experience at best."
The motorized reel worked nicely, he said.
"It has a lot of potential," Kemery said. "This will get people back out. I told him (Kehr), 'I think you hit a home run.'?"
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